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News & Press: AAALetter

From the President: The Elephant on the Patio

Wednesday, June 8, 2016  
Posted by: Kathleen M. Bailey
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Now that the 2016 AAAL Conference in Orlando is history, I am eager to move forward with AAAL activities. I’ve been told that it is appropriate, in this June issue of the newsletter, for the new President to write about the goals for his/her presidency. There are several such goals, but two over-arching philosophical goals are to build on the efforts of my predecessors in realizing AAAL’s strategic plan, and to continue to promote the concept of “Applied Linguistics Applied”  the theme of our recent conference. That is, although I do not by any means wish to overlook the importance of theory in our field, I do want to emphasize the many ways in which our knowledge and skill sets can address important problems in our modern world  particularly the “language-related concerns” mentioned in the AAAL mission statement.

The 2016 AAAL Conference began with the grand opening of the publishers’ exhibit. AAAL President Paul Matsuda was on hand to welcome the guests and cut the ceremonial purple ribbon to the exhibit hall. Paul had just begun his brief remarks about the importance of the publishers in our field when a sudden commotion arose in the grassy expanse of the huge patio outside the exhibit hall. The conference goers were surprised to hear loud music and to see an elephant  a real, live elephant, bedecked in red and gold cloth draperies and sporting a red, blue and gold parasol shading the bride and groom riding on his back. Apparently a traditional Indian wedding was scheduled in the patio area at the same time our first conference event was beginning!

Remembering the surprising image of the elephant on the patio reminded me of the saying about “the elephant in the room.” This idiom refers to something huge and obvious that everyone wants to ignore and would prefer not to talk about. According to Wikipedia, this expression began with a scene from a fable by the Russian poet, Ivan Andreevich Krylov. The story was entitled “The Inquisitive Man” and it talks about a person who notices many small and interesting things as he visits a particular museum, but somehow does not see an elephant there. Later, Dostoevsky refers to the character, Belinksy, in his novel Demons, by saying that he was “just like Krylov's Inquisitive Man, who didn't notice the elephant in the museum...”. Later the saying evolved to include the part about a tacit agreement not to talk about the elephant-sized issue, whatever it might be.

I don’t think that we, as an association, have any elephants in our organizational living room, but there are a few grazing just outside the door. In my view, here are some of the key issues we need to be aware of and communicate about during the year ahead.

First, we need to be more explicit and transparent about what it is that we do. For instance, in 2016, Tim Marquette, the Assistant Conference Chair, and I asked each of the Strand Coordinators to write a paragraph explaining what his/her particular strand covered, so that people submitting proposals  especially those submitting proposals for the first time  would have some guidance about which strand would be the best fit for their ideas. I am delighted to see that Tim McNamara, the 2017 Conference Chair, is continuing to use these strand descriptions. This is just one example. There are also policies that need to be clarified in the coming year, so that all AAAL members can understand how the association functions.

Second, as an association, we need to communicate with people in related organizations as well as people entirely beyond our field. In terms of the former, members of the Executive Committee have begun exploring ways we could productively engage with other organizations for our mutual benefit. The 2016 conference featured Invited Colloquia representing TESOL, the American Anthropological Association, and the International Language Testing Association. As for the latter, there was a Professional Opportunities Session at the conference about communicating with the media and an Invited Colloquium on health literacy as well as one on applied linguistics in the courtroom. We also have a new “Outreach Award Committee,” whose members will be working to acknowledge work by a non-AAAL member that raises public awareness of important social issues involving language. I’m grateful to Aneta Pavlenko for agreeing to chair this new committee.

Third, I am delighted that the association has recently formalized the rights and responsibilities of the Graduate Student Council (GSC). The role of graduate student members of AAAL is very important, and I’m pleased to say that about 40% of the 2016 conference attendees were registered as students. The GSC leaders were very active in planning segments of the conference and communicating about it with their members. In fact, collaborating with Nicole Pettitt and Daniel Ginsberg on the GSC components of the conference was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to working with GSC Co-Chairs Mengying Liu and Lindsey Kurtz throughout the coming year. As an association, however, I believe that we need to do more to support our graduate student members, by offering mentoring on publishing, leadership, and submitting effective conference proposals. This goal also includes individual AAAL members donating to the Fund for the Future of Applied Linguistics (FFAL) – the foundation which provides the annual Graduate Student Awards for outstanding conference proposals.

In closing, let me say that I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Executive Committee and our wonderful professional management team in the months ahead. I hope that during my presidency, AAAL will move ahead with the broad goals listed above. Let’s keep the elephant  as mystical and amazing as he may be  on the patio, but recognize his presence nonetheless.

Kathleen M. Bailey, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

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